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Obsolete Learning Technologies
December 29, 2009 - 10:57pm

The Silicon Alley Insider recently named 21 technologies that became obsolete this past decade. My favorites from the list included: the PDA, paid e-mail accounts, dial-up, film developing, video rental stores, landlines, public pay phones, VCRs, phonebooks, and CDs.

What learning technologies have become obsolete this decade?

1. Scantron Sheets: When I first started teaching (in 1997) we would give multiple choice tests on Scantron sheets, which would then be graded by the Scantron scanner. Today, thankfully, high-stakes multiple choice testing has been replaced by the testing engines in the LMS. We also know that good pedagogy involves frequent, low-stakes testing - and that mid-term or final multiple choice exams most test students ability to take tests.

2. Overhead Projectors and Transparencies: Remember the days when textbooks would come bundled with color transparencies (matching to tables and graphs from the book) that we would show with the overhead projector during class? I remember doing lots of photocopying on to transparencies of my own teaching materials as well. For each class I'd have to lug in the "portable" overhead projector, as many classes did not have a permanent one installed.

3. Classroom VCR/DVD Players: The showing of any video in class longer than 10 minutes (save for film or media classes) has always driven me crazy. Nowadays any video should reside in the LMS (either linked to the campus streaming server or uploaded for shorter clips), available for students to watch outside of class on their own time. Not so long ago showing video inside of class seemed acceptable, nowadays that time can be used for discussion and debate.

4. Course Packs and Course Readers: I don't know the whole legal history of course packs (here I need my higher ed. vertical search engine), although I understand that it is long and complicated. Nowadays I'm not sure why anyone would produce paper copies of course readings, where it is much easier for both students and faculty to link or upload course readings into the LMS. I think we have about universal integration between library course reserve systems (with copyright cleared readings) and our learning management platforms.

5. Photocopiers: I must have photocopied thousands of articles during my student years. Journals could not circulate, so the process involved tracking down the appropriate journal article, finding a working photocopier (not always easy), and creating a stack of articles for later reading. Today we search our academic library databases (or Google) and print. Tomorrow we will download the articles to our e-readers.

6. Microfiche: Card catalogues are a pretty distant memory for me, but microfiche made up a big part of my life as an undergraduate U.S. history major. Microfiche was the media we used to view old newspaper articles. It was a tool to discover primary source documents. Today I still see microfiche readers hanging out in the library, although I don't think I've ever witnessed a student using them. Fact is, if the archives are not online then for all intents and purposes they do not exist.

7. Language and Computer Labs: Language labs are basically gone - computer labs are not far behind. With almost all students coming to campus with their own laptop it makes little sense for colleges spend precious resources on a roomful of desktop machines. I'm wondering if thin clients are even necessary - wouldn't it be more cost effective to have a few loaner laptops available for students when their own computers break down? Could money saved on computer labs, maintenance, upgrades, staffing etc. be re-directed to learning technologies?

8. Paper Journals and Periodicals?: This is a giant can of worms - I know. We can debate reference books and other paper products. I'd like to understand why paper subscriptions to journals and periodicals are still necessary when we have full-text searchable databases. My guess is that publishers don't discount electronic texts, so that is no cheaper for schools to forgo the paper option. Is this true?

What can you add to this list of obsolete learning technologies?

What would our list look like in the year 2020?


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